University of Southern Mississippi Senior Research Scientist Harriet Perry was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mississippi Chapter of the American Fisheries Society on Feb. 23 in Biloxi.
Perry’s career spans 50 years at USM’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory where she filled the role of graduate student, biologist, faculty member, and ultimately Director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development.
“Most folks from the coast measure time by the passage of hurricanes so in that tradition, I can say that my career at GCRL began prior to Hurricane Camille and ended post-Katrina,” Perry said. “I literally grew up at the laboratory, having been there since graduation from college and it has been an amazing journey… from pigtails to AARP, all in the same place. “
Perry is well known for her work with blue crabs. She is affectionately known as “The Crab Lady” and is the acknowledged expert on blue crabs in the Gulf of Mexico, having studied this highly valued species’ biology, population dynamics and aquaculture capacity.
“I began working with the blue crab fishery in the early 1970s,” she said. “There has been a lot to learn about these animals, and GCRL has made significant contributions to the understanding of the biology of this species in Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.”
She has also developed an exceptionally close working relationship with coastal fishers who deeply appreciate her advice, guidance and innovative ideas that benefit their livelihoods and the resources they depend upon for a living.
Perry said beginning her career with blue crabs was a daunting task. Instead of reaching for a textbook to find answers, she went to the local experts.
“After a lot of thought, I decided the smart approach was to ask the individuals that made a living off this animal for help, and I was mentored over the years by some of the best fishermen on the coast,” she said. “George, Dolph and Luke Dubaz, of Dubaz Brothers Crab Company in Biloxi spent many hours with me and I realized early on that they had knowledge that I would never find in a textbook.”
During her career in marine science, Perry has authored or co-authored more than 100 scientific papers and journal articles and has edited/co-edited or authored 10 book chapters on fisheries management plans of both regional and national importance.
Iconic GCRL research scientist Jim Franks first met Perry when they were both graduate students just beginning their careers. Franks said Perry’s hard work and passion for marine science burns the same today as it did 50 years ago.
“Harriet is one of the most dedicated, hard-working marine scientists I know, and her many accomplishments attest to that fact,” Franks said. “She has distinguished herself throughout her highly successful and productive career, making significant contributions that advanced scientific knowledge and supported effective and sustainable management of Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico fisheries resources and critically important habitats.”
Perry’s research interests include management of marine fisheries, fishery development, ecology of estuarine and marine invertebrates, invertebrate taxonomy, aquaculture, and invasive species. She also has an exceptional record of grantsmanship, finding success in securing support for critically important research programs and initiatives.
“The expanse of Harriet’s research, academic and outreach activities is vast and covers a wide domain of marine living resources and associated human dimensions,” Franks said. “Her lifelong work stands as a guidepost for others to follow.”
Over the years, Perry has served in numerous leadership roles within the marine fisheries scientific community as member, chair and co-chair on fisheries committees, workshops, task forces and fishery management planning teams associated with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, and Gulf of Mexico Program. In 2005, Perry and her research team were awarded the Gulf Guardian Award from the Alabama/Mississippi Rapid Assessment Program.
Perry retired from GCRL in 2011 but continues to direct research projects in the University’s Center for Fisheries Research and Development (CFRD) and Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center as a senior research scientist and professor emerita.
“All who have worked with Harriet have been touched by her love of her work and marine science,” said Jill Hendon, CFRD interim director. “We are so proud to have all her efforts and achievements acknowledged with this lifetime achievement award.”